Dream Night at the Zoo sheds stigma for children with special needs

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A unique night at the Little Rock Zoo opens the gates only for families of children with special needs for free. 

“She was so very excited that we were coming,” Lisa Habiland said about her 4-year-old daughter Marisa.  

The Habiland family came to the Little Rock Zoo from Conway. 

“Anytime we get a chance to do something like this we take advantage of it,” Mike Habiland said. 

Just like Jennifer and her son Garrett who suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was 3. 

“No one is judging and no one is staring and we’re with our people,” Jennifer Thompson said. 

It’s a chance to enjoy all the zoo has to offer without any social stigma or accessibility issues. 

“Have the time to just come out and not have to you know, worry about anything,” Jamie Morrison said. 

Her daughter Nila has a rare disease and sees several doctors frequently. This was the break her family needed. 

One addition to the zoo you won’t see on a regular day is a Sensory Station. The Discovery Network – an outreach program from the Museum of Discovery – received a grant from the Blue & You Foundation to test out the sensory-friendly area at events. 

“We’ve provided a space that kind of gives them a little more things to play with and to squish and to just be calm and quiet, and just kind of have that area to feel safe,” Brittney Kugler, the Discovery Network Education Manager said. 

Challenges come in many forms, but at the zoo, unique qualities are celebrated. 

“Watching all the children not look at the differences in each other out here and they’re all enjoying the animals and just having a good time,” Glynis Staggs said as she enjoyed the evening with her grandchildren. 

It’s a freedom some families don’t always get — but Thursday night they’re grateful they did. 
 

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